Features – Creating a Personal Online Reference Desk for Beginners

Diana Botluk is a lawyering skills instructor at Catholic University Law School, where she earned her J.D. in 1984.

Producing a personal web site can be creative and fun. If making web sites is not a part of the job, however, it can be hard to find the time to know how to put even a single page online. There is a simple answer out there that lets anyone create a useful, informative web page in just a couple of hours.

Legal researchers might choose to create a single page to collect all their favorite reference links in one place. The exercise that follows will demonstrate some easy steps to take to create a simple personal reference desk. Keeping it on the Web, as opposed to just organizing bookmarks on a browser, has a couple of benefits. First, the page can be viewed from anywhere there is Internet access: office, home, reference desk, or a friend’s computer. Secondly, this exercise is meant to introduce Internet users to the process of creating their own web space, without any special knowledge of HTML language or editors. The experience of producing this one simple page creates familiarity with the basics that can be used as a foundation for further projects.

This exercise uses Geocities (http://geocities.yahoo.com/home) to create a page, however there are other options out there where free Web space can be found. Another good one is Tripod (http://www.tripod.lycos.com/). A few more are Free WebPages.com ( http://www.freewebpages.com ), Angelfire ( http://angelfire.lycos.com ), and FreeWebSpace ( http://www.freewebspace.com ). Are they really giving away web space for free? Yes, as long as you let them insert advertisements onto your pages. These services are good for beginners because they start with templates, and they make it easy to create a page even with no HTML experience whatsoever. A great deal, though, for those with a little more experience, can be found at doteasy (http://doteasy.com). You can register your own domain name for as low as $18 per year, and get free Web space and e-mail accounts along with it, and no advertising.

I use the following exercise in my Capcon hands-on seminar Creating a Personal Online Reference Desk. It is meant for beginners and should take a couple of hours to complete the steps. If you prefer in-class training, or would just like to set three hours of time aside to complete this exercise with someone else there to help you, please consider taking the class at Capcon ( http://www.capcon.net ). The example page for the class can be found at http://www.geocities.com/botluk.

Have fun!

Create an Account and Get Personal Web Space

Build your page using Yahoo! Geocities. Sign up for an account at Geocities http://www.geocities.com . Make a note of your account ID and password.

Getting Started With Your Web Page

  • Once you’ve signed up for an account, choose the Yahoo! Page Builder option.
  • Scroll down to Popular Themed Templates and choose My Links .
  • Choose Launch Page Builder (this will take a little while to load).

Create the Page Title and Description

  • Change the template text by double-clicking in a text box. First, change the title in the title box, then write a description in the description box. Notice how you can change the font, size and color of the text

Change the Length of the Page

  • Choose format from the menu bar, then page properties . Change the height of the page to 2000. Click on OK .

Save the File

  • Save the file with the filename index . Do not choose to view the page at this time.

Change the Background

  • Change the busy background to something more subtle. On pages where a lot of text appears, it’s best to have a plainer background. Double click the background tiles . You can change to a plain color, or choose another background from the list. The example is the background bookclub_bk from the generic list.

Moving Elements on the Page

  • If you chose a background with a design in the margin, you may need to adjust the placement of the boxes on the page. Do so by clicking once and dragging them to another place.

Deleting Elements on the Page

  • Delete the message board element that comes with the template. This is no longer supported by Geocities. Click on it to highlight it, then choose delete .

Add a Picture

  • Now add a picture in its place. Click on pictures . At the top of the page that opens you see a drop down list called Collection . Each themed collection contains a number of different clipart pictures you can choose from. Choose a collection. To preview the pictures in that collection, choose view thumbnails . Browse through the pictures until you find one you like, then highlight it and choose OK . Click and drag the picture to the top right side of the page. You may need to resize it so it doesn’t overlap the text. The picture chosen for the example is bookappl from the generic list.


  • Save and preview the page. Then close the preview window.

Adding text boxes

  • Your ultimate plan will be to provide many reference links in a number of categories. The template provides one large text box for all six categories on the right side of the page, and one large text box for all six alphabetical divisions on the left side of the page.
  • Add five more text boxes on each side so each category and alphabetical division into its own individual text box. This will prove helpful later on when setting up hot links on the page.
  • Add text boxes by clicking on text on the tool bar. A text box will appear. Move each text box that appears below the larger text boxes that are already there from the template. Size the boxes to match the width of the larger text boxes. There should be five new boxes below each larger text box. Double click in each one to type in a label with the appropriate category number or alphabetical division.


  • Save and preview the page. Close the preview window and scroll to the bottom of the page in the page builder window.

Add a Time and Date Stamp

  • Page builder allows you to add some special features. Click on Add-Ons . Choose Instant Information , then Time and Date Stamp . Choose a font and colors that match your page and click OK. Choose Preview to see how it looks. You may need to adjust the size and colors. Just double click on the date and time stamp in the page builder window again.

Add a Yahoo! Search Box to Your Page

  • Click Add-Ons , then Instant Information . Choose Yahoo! Search Box . Position the search box on your page.

Add Weather Information

  • Again using Add-Ons and Instant Information , add weather information to your page. Provide the zip code for the weather information that you want to appear on the page. Position the weather box on your page.

Add News Headlines to Your Page

  • Choose Add-Ons and then Headlines . Choose the category of headlines you wish to add, then position them on your page.

Add the First Reference Link

  • Make the first category Places, and the first link MapQuest. Double click in Category 1 and change it to Places .
  • Next, In the links box, change Category 1 to Places . Remove the text that says Type Links here and type in Mapquest .
  • Now highlight the word Mapquest and click on the Link button on the tool bar. Type http://www.mapquest.com and click on OK .
  • Repeat this procedure on the left side of the page under M to P .

Save and Preview

  • Now save the page and preview it. Make sure the links to Mapquest work by clicking on them from the preview page. Then close the preview box.

Planning for Reference Links

  • Now you are ready to start adding links. Notice that the template provides space for six different categories of links. To make it easy, think about six categories to use while collecting your links. Make sure your page is saved. Then click on file and exit .

Collecting Reference Links

  • Go to the web and locate a variety of reference links you’d like to provide on your page. A great place to locate many useful reference links is http://www.refdesk.com . You may already have some in mind.
  • Open the notepad on your computer. As you are collecting links, type the name of the page you want to link in notepad, and copy and paste the URL. Remember, try and think in terms of six different categories. Think about the kinds of things you regularly need, and use your imagination. Here are some suggestions: People, Places, Business and Companies, Time and Date, Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Calculators and Converters, Quotations.

Recall Your File for Editing

  • When you have 2 links collected for each category, sign back into Geocities at http://www.geocities.com . Enter your ID and password and click on Sign In . Under the Advanced Toolbox , click on File Manager . Next, click on Open File Manager . Click on the PageBuilder icon (looks like a little house) next to index.html to open the page. Wait a few minutes while page builder opens back up.

Adding Reference Links

  • Once the file is open in the page builder window, add the names of the reference sites you have collected into the appropriate categories and alphabetical divisions. Highlight each name and click on Link on the toolbar, then type in the url for the link and click OK . Repeat this procedure for every site you have collected. Each site should be listed twice, once in a category and once alphabetically. As you are typing, you may have to move elements around on the page to make them fit. Simply click and drag them.

Adding an Anchor Tag

  • Now add anchors to the page for more maneuverability. Underneath the word Alphabetically on your page there is a small text box with six ranges of letters. Double click in the box and highlight A to D . Click on Link on the toolbar. Choose My Page from the Link to a Location drop down box. Type in #atod and click OK . Next, move down to the alphabetical division boxes with your links in them. Click the A to D box to select it. Choose format , then Advanced Properties from the menu bar. Type atod in the box labeled Anchor Tag , then click OK .


  • Save and preview your page, checking the link to make sure it works.
  • HINT: If it doesn’t work, go back to the page builder and select A to D where you created the link. Click Link on the tool bar again and type the entire url: http://www.geocities.com/yourusername/index.html#atod . This will work, however, it will take longer because it loads your page a second time.

Add More Anchor Tags

  • Repeat the procedure for each alphabetical division and category on the page.

Go Exploring

  • Use the time left in class to add more links or text, or explore more of the Add-On elements to add to your page. You can even go to the file manager and add a new page to your site, then link the two together. If you add another page, remember that the home page must be named index.html.

Posted in: Features, Reference Resources, Web Utilities